Words of art

Fishing Lines
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The Independent Online
Later this month I am guest speaker at the Guild of Taxidermists' annual convention. It should be an unusual occasion, though my wife has suggested the exhibits will probably be livelier than the after-dinner speech. Bit unfair, that. Only five or six people fell asleep on the last occasion I spoke at a dinner (the rest were just resting their eyes).

It cannot be easy for taxidermists to find a suitable speaker. They must long ago have exhausted experts on "How Many Spots to Paint on a Trout", "Choosing the Right Pose for a Giraffe" or "Stuffing Pets: The Ethical Issue". But it does raise a tricky point: what do you talk about to people who put their hands up dead animals' bottoms for a living? Not easy - especially after a meal. (Thought: will there be preserves on the table?)

I was grateful, therefore, that John Gierach's new book, Another Lousy Day in Paradise, lent me inspiration. Gierach is American and a bit of a purist, but that's all you can hold against him. He is probably the world's most consistently brilliant writer about fishing. Another Lousy Day is as sparklingly witty, thought-provoking and original as his previous six books. Fishing tomes are generally about as interesting as formulae for sub-atomic particles, but Gierach is one of those rare authors who appeals to non-anglers. You don't need to understand fly-tying or the artistry in a cane rod to appreciate the verve in his writing.

What's more, he's extremely useful at giving me ideas when I'm sitting in front of a blank screen. When you write a weekly column, plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery. And now the old boy (actually he's a few years younger than me, but doesn't wear as well) has inspired an idea for the stuffers' knees-up. Here's Gierach on travel.

"Barring a catastrophe, all you have to do on a trip is fish and ponder whatever comes to mind. Your most momentous decision will be whether you want to go for rainbows again today, or grayling, or maybe try for some char. You can leave your watch in camp and discard your sense of logistics.

"I don't travel or fish to 'get away' because my life at home isn't something I need to escape from, but I do find that I think more clearly on a trip. Or maybe 'think' isn't the right word. What sometimes happens is things I've actually given up thinking about just slip into place of their own accord, providing the answer or, more likely, the realisation that an answer is not required."

It's what I wanted to say about my travels over the past few years. I'm not doing it for excitement or to catch a bigger fish than my friends: I do it to clear my head. The thing is, if you start talking like that, people stick a mental note saying "fruitcake" on your forehead. It's easier to tell 'em the yarns and what they want to hear, rather than trying to explain the almost holy feeling of a wild river in Arunachal Pradesh.

'Another Lousy Day in Paradise', by John Gierach, pounds 14.99, Excellent Press.

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